by Katie

I had been, to my own surprise, in an exceptionally good humour that bright afternoon. The rounds I had made were challenging both in the nature of the complaints and in the individual quirks of the patients, but I had experienced one of those golden periods in which each fresh problem is somehow dealt with deftly and assuredly. My diagnoses were swift and confident and my treatment of existing conditions deeply encouraging. I made, in fact, no effort to conceal the smile which flitted across my face as I turned the key in the lock of 221, for my exhaustion had reached that hazy state of well-being which is even more pleasurable than mere idle relaxation. When I arrived at the top of the stairs, I divested myself of hat and stick and proceeded to look about me for some sign of Sherlock Holmes.

He was not present, but lying in the center of an opened sheet of butcher paper sat a small wooden box. I was certain it had not been there when I had departed that morning, and I looked it over curiously. I did not think twice about reaching for it, nor of opening it. The sharp prick of the spring's metal edge shocked me into more profound alertness, and I dropped the object with a start.

My hand bled in a tiny trickle as I stared down in amazement.

The device had been loaded, I saw plainly, so as to catch the recipient unawares, although what purpose such an absurd trick could serve was at that moment entirely beyond the boundaries of my imagination. I fetched a clean cloth, washed the scratch, dried it, and affixed a small piece of sticking plaster. Searching the table for any note which may have accompanied the clever little trap, I at length determined that there was none to be found. Whether the box had been intended for Holmes or created by him I could not tell, but I at length decided that the grotesque object would be explained to me in the fullness of time.

I did not waste any more time thinking about it, I am afraid. Instead, I settled myself upon the sofa with a medical journal to await my companion's return in greater comfort. I found my mind drifting almost instantly, and within ten minutes I was fast asleep.

There are a number of sounds in this world which are unpleasant to the ear, but very few that are capable of wrenching a deeply sleeping man into instant wakefulness; one such sound, I know to my regret, is that of a beloved friend being startled from ease into panic. The cry he gave will remain in my mind for the rest of my life. It was a dreadful yell--one which might have been heard down the street. I sat up immediately, my skin cold and my hair bristling.

"Holmes, what is the matter?" I gasped, whirling about to clutch the back of the settee with two hands as I knelt on the seat. He had reached me in three long strides a moment later and taken my face in his hands, which I was mortified to discover were not perfectly steady, as was their habit. That he had my face in his hands in the first place, an equally startling event, I was too drowsy to immediately register. I am not a man who is discomfited by the nearness of other men. Quite the contrary, as a matter of fact. I am exceptionally skilled at concealing this element of my nature, but nevertheless this is so.

"Watson, tell me you did not open that box," he said rapidly. "Please tell me. You...." He stopped himself at the sight of the little strip of sticking plaster and at once covered his mouth with his hand.

"Yes, I did. I am sorry, for it was very likely yours. But it was only a spring, my dear fellow, though it drew blood for a moment. Some absurd joke, no doubt."

My friend's face went utterly white, an event which was terrifying to observe, for the man was ever pale and aesthetic at the best of times. "You cut your hand on the spring from that box?" he repeated slowly.

"The merest scratch," I smiled, though the expression died when he began to look nothing short of ill. "My dear fellow, what is it? As you can see, no harm has been done."

"Yes, there has," he whispered. "No, no, you are right. Perhaps there has not. Perhaps, in the execution of it--dear God in heaven, may he have made some mistake--at what time did you arrive home?"

"It must have been two hours ago. Holmes, you must tell me at once what this is about," I added firmly, for I still could not see what had so terrified him, and witnessing such chagrin from a man of his stoic nature was deeply disturbing. I had, from the commencement of our lodging together, made a scrupulous study of the fellow which bordered upon outright obsession, and never before in our acquaintance could I recall him appearing visibly afraid. My sympathy with his entire existence was such that his fright was positively infectious. "I would have felt very stupid indeed if the point had been tipped with venom or some such nonsense, but as you can see I am perfectly well."

"No headache?" he demanded urgently, running a hand over my brow. "Fever? Muscle weakness?"

"What is going on here? Holmes, who sent you that box?"

"I ought to have hidden it," he muttered, beginning to pace the small space between our settee and his chemical table. "Why on earth did I not put the wretched thing away? I am the most confounded fool in London. Anyone would have opened it."

"You didn't open it," I pointed out with growing impatience.

"I am not typical of my race," he snapped in return. "I am sorry," he said immediately. "Watson, do you feel anything amiss, anywhere, at all? It is most vitally important," he finished, resuming his entirely unsystematic examination, which consisted mainly of lightly touching my head and neck as if doing so could assure him I was still present. This was not an altogether unprecedented development. Holmes, I had realized very early in our acquaintance, possessed highly sensitive hands and was more often than not disposed to use them--for emphasis, for articulation, for effect, and occasionally for no good reason whatever. The fact that his doing so had a distressingly profound effect upon me I had thus far managed to keep to myself.

"Am I meant to understand," I ventured, "that some variety of pathogen was introduced to that spring before it was placed in the box?"

"I don't know," he said miserably. "Yes, I think so. I may be mad, my dear fellow. I hope very much that I am mad. It isn't likely, but--"

"Holmes," I murmured in dismay, "that box wasn't sent to you from Dr. Culverton Smith, was it?"

"I can reassure myself in a variety of ways, but it would be absurd to deny that the package was addressed in his handwriting."

"Good heavens," I gasped, sitting back upon the sofa.

The instant I registered the proper anxiety, his own face composed itself determinedly as he leaned forward. "There is nothing whatever to worry about. You are going to be fine. I swear it to you. You must help me, however, and we shall see what is best to be done."

He skirted the edge of the settee and seated himself next to me with his knee drawn up at an angle, barely brushing against my own. I had often been overjoyed that the object of my single minded devotion had, despite his aloof nature, a very careless sense of his own space where I was concerned, but I was by this time far too distracted to be properly gratified.

"Let us consider the matter more carefully," he declared. "At this juncture, we know that Culverton Smith did away with Victor Savage, whose continued existence would have cost him a considerable amount of money had he lived a longer and more productive life. We know that he did so by introducing a disease to Savage which is unheard of in England, let alone London, and a disease of which Smith has made a special study. We know that Smith is aware of our suspicions, to my regret. We know he sent the box, and we know that the box was addressed to me."

"If we are to reach the obvious conclusion, I am a dead man," I said dully.

"Don't say that," he replied sharply. "That is a preposterous notion."

"Holmes, it is logic."

"It is fanciful pessimism, and I've no patience with it. If I have anything to say about the subject, and I most assuredly do, you will die in your sleep at the age of a hundred and ten. Now, either you have been infected with the disease or you have not. In the first case--"

"There is nothing whatever to be done."

"Your conclusion is precisely backward," my companion said scathingly. "In the first case, we shall work out a solution when we are more certain of our facts. In the second case, there is nothing whatever to be done, because there is nothing wrong with you. How long, in your professional opinion, would it take before you grow symptomatic of an ailment introduced in this manner?"

"I have made no particular study of diseases administered purposefully via contaminated spring."

"Then extrapolate from other experience," he suggested with exaggerated patience.

"What is the point? If the spring was infected--"

"I realize you are alarmed, but do me the honour of listening to me for a moment! I take a spring, and I daub it with a pathogen I have developed. Perhaps I remember that most germs can exist for only a short time outside a host, depending upon their environment. Perhaps I do not recall that is the case, and fail to include an effective enough culture medium on the tip of the weapon. I am no doctor, but surely you will own that a bare spring is not the most comfortable of homes for a tropical disease."

As much as I was inclined to indulge in unhelpful panic, my good sense returned in time to inform me Holmes was perfectly correct. "If a pathogen has been introduced into my bloodstream, I would expect to see results no later than tomorrow," I said cautiously.

"Then sufficient for tomorrow is the evil thereof," Holmes concluded. He leapt to his feet and reached for his hat. "I shall see you in the morning."

"What?" I exclaimed. "You are leaving me? Where are you going?"

"This seems to me an important enough circumstance to prepare for the worst even if we do not expect it," he replied. "I've little notion how long my researches are likely to take, but I shall return no later than nine in the morning. I request that you remain healthy, but I will not blame you if you find it is too difficult a task."

"Holmes, you cannot find a cure for a deadly disease in matter of hours! Surely you know that. Stay where you are. Please." I knew well enough why I wanted him to remain so badly, though I hoped fervently that Holmes himself remained in ignorance.

"See here, Doctor," he said, returning to face me with the settee still between us. He leaned his wiry body against it, and the back of that piece of furniture had never before seemed to me so very thinly constructed. "Tomorrow morning, we are going to ring for breakfast and weave our web to ensnare this Smith villain. He is far too unpredictable and malevolent to be allowed to roam our streets unhindered. But tonight I am taking precautions." He cast one more look over my features, and then willed himself into nonchalance. "Sleep well," he called out as he exited our rooms. I stared at the closed door for a full five minutes before my head dropped despairingly on my arm.

It would do no one an ounce of good to worry, I concluded, and though I could not begin to guess what Holmes thought he was doing, I set about preparing for bed as dispassionately as was possible. I intended to fall asleep at once, hoping vaguely that when I awoke, the whole bizarre incident would prove to be an exceptionally long nightmare. I intended to meet Holmes downstairs and order extra rashers with my eggs. I intended to spend that day, as I had spent so many others, recording every possible nuance of expression evidenced by the world's only independent consulting detective, without hinting to that dispassionate gentleman that I had fallen irrevocably in love with him. I say intended, for by four in the morning I had fallen into a low fever and had lost sight of my resolutions entirely.

A gentle knock at my door brought me back to myself, but before I had time to bid the visitor enter, he was sitting on the edge of my bed.

"Watson." Holmes' face hovered above my own with apparent serenity, but I who knew his every mood could see my own poor health reflected upon his face. "How do you feel?"

"The first case," I sighed. "The one we are in disagreement over the possibility of treating."

He balled a small amount of my bedclothes into a fist but made no other sign. "You are certain?" He ran the back of a long hand over my brow.

"No, I am toying with you in an outrageous and unfeeling charade," I responded. "Of course I am certain."

"How long have you been like this?"

"I don't know. Four hours? Five? Holmes, this doesn't feel like a coincidental influenza. The worst has happened. I am sure of it."

"Get up," he said with a positively militaristic air of command.

"In heaven's name, why?"

"This is the worst sickroom I have ever encountered. My bedroom is at least on the first floor. Now, come with me."

While I was considering the justice of this idea, an altogether horrifying thought occurred to me. "Holmes, get away from me at once."

"I beg your pardon?"

"You mustn't touch me," I coughed. "Leave the room."

"In what way have I given offense?" he asked suavely. His voice remained as languid as ever, though I could see that proof of my illness had been a considerable blow to him.

"I am very likely contagious. You must keep away from me at all costs," I insisted, my heart beating against my ribcage at the thought of Holmes, the most elegant, courageous, intelligent man the world had ever produced, contracting the virulent disease from me.

He laughed mirthlessly. "Let us lose no time adding delirium to your list of symptoms. Get out of that bed and come with me."

"Holmes, please," I persisted, flushing in my vexation. "I cannot allow you to risk it."

"Do you suppose such a consideration weighs with me for an instant?" he demanded, growing angry in his turn. "What sort of man do you take me for?" He passed an arm behind my back and physically lifted me into a seated position, and before I could make any gesture of protest, he had drawn my own arm across his muscular shoulders and assisted me to my feet.
"Do you think I desire my final act in this world to be infecting my dearest friend with a deadly disease?" I cried out. "Let go of me, for God's sake."

"Oh, certainly. Then I shall just live out my days having watched idly--from a safe distance, mind--while you--" He arrested his speech suddenly. "You can do one of two things. You can help, which is to say walk, or I shall carry you bodily down the stairs. And do not for a moment entertain the thought that I could not do it," he finished with forced jocularity.

If I was incapable of saying no to Sherlock Holmes when in perfect health, I could not expect to do so when weakened and feverish. We reached his bedroom quickly enough, and though I was mortified at his proximity to the contagion, I could not deny that his room was far more amenable to caring for the sick than my cozy little garret at the top of a flight of narrow stairs. When I had been made comfortable, he disappeared for some few minutes while I looked about me from the unprecedented position of Holmes' bed. His pillow smelled so sweetly and subtly of him that I could almost bring myself to the brink of contentment before I recalled the circumstances which had led me there.

He reappeared after a short period with a glass of water, a cold compress, and a notebook. The first object he placed on his side table, the second on my forehead, and sitting beside me, he opened the third methodically.

"What are you doing?"

"We are compiling a list. Tell me the most prominent specialists in tropical disease currently abiding in London."

"Sir Jasper Meek is one," I said thoughtfully. "His practice is doubtless listed in my medical directory. He made quite a name for himself in his day, traveling throughout Asia making a special study of water-borne fevers. Penrose Fisher recently returned from Siam and is considered the final authority on the black Formosa corruption, among other obscure ailments. But Holmes, what good--"

"Refrain from unwarranted morbidity, I implore you," he interrupted. "It is very grating to my nerves. I may not know anything about tropical ailments, but I have, at least, a healthy bank account. Victor Savage called in neither of these gentlemen, and who knows but that it may have made a difference. What can I do for you in the meanwhile?"

"Nothing--I am well enough, for the moment," I said in as stout a voice as I could muster.

"Good fellow. I have told Mrs. Hudson it would be best not to disturb you, but she'll be up shortly with some broth. She can leave it on the far table, if you prefer."

"I do prefer. Holmes...."

"What is it, my dear fellow?" he asked from the door.

"Never mind," I said weakly. I could not tell him why his confidence had so effectively averted my own panic, and neither could I express my gratitude for it without indulging in far more sentimentality than Holmes would be prepared to tolerate. "Thank you."

"It is nothing," he dismissed me. "Rest well until I return." I drifted back into an uneasy sleep.

Sir Jasper Meek and Penrose Fisher, both of whom boasted schedules unsurpassed for being filled to the breaking point by any other medical gentlemen in London, arrived within two hours. I stared up at them from the bed making but scant attempts to conceal my awe at their arrival. How Holmes accomplished it I have never learned, but after a lengthy consult with me and with each other, my friend leaning back against his wardrobe with his hands thrust in his pockets all the while, they reached the same conclusion I had expected them to reach all along. If it was a known fever, they could make an effort to cure it, but it was not yet so advanced that they knew what they were dealing with. If an unknown fever, the only method would be to hope for the best while it ran its course, wreaking its particular brand of havoc as it did so. They were detailing this dilemma very courteously to me when their eloquence met with an unexpected impediment.

"Gentlemen, I am sure we are very grateful to you for explaining in such detail what maladies this could not possibly be," Holmes interjected, after having swiveled his aloof head back and forth from one to the other. "Indeed, the fact that it could not be malarial had no more entered my mind than the fact that it could not be typhus. However, as the factor of time may well be in effect, might I suggest that you devote yourselves more passionately to the reaching of a diagnosis? The last person to contract the disease was dead in four days. That is an outcome we would be reluctant to consider in this instance," he ended, and there was no mistaking this time the slim thread of fear running through the biting sarcasm.

The physicians were not overly enthusiastic about my friend's tone of voice. They suggested a variety of drugs, jotted them down, corrected one another's suggestions, apologized they could not do more, and by the time they had left Baker Street my hands had begun shaking and twitching subtly where they lay upon the quilt. Holmes settled himself next to me and lit a cigarette.

"It was good of you to bring them, in any event," I thanked him after a fit of coughing had subsided.

"They were never our best chance of success," he said with a wave of his hand. "My researches last night will more likely lead us to our goal."

"In what way?" I asked. My spirits were utterly depressed, for I was sick enough to know that the ailment was deadly serious while still well enough to be cognizant of every detail. "You have made a breakthrough in modern medicine?"

"Do be serious, my dear fellow. I spent last night chatting up workmen and housemaids in pubs."

"Of course you did," I replied, closing my eyes in despair.

"It was very profitable indeed."

"How could it have been?" I asked, beginning to lose my temper.

"I have never yet encountered a doctor who makes a particular study of a disease merely to admire the artistry of its effects," he returned acidly. "I gambled that Culverton Smith, having proven a clever enough sort in his unsullied youth, may well have developed a treatment for his pet pathogen. Apparently, he talks of little else when engaged in professional consultations. Or so the downstairs housemaid tells me. But I am sure you could not possibly take an interest in such idle gossip."

"Holmes, forgive my impatience, but this is hardly the time leave me in suspense, you will admit."

"He has in the past cultivated a substance, distilled into a serum, which proved very promising in a large percentage of the natives afflicted by the disease," my companion said apologetically. Clarity, for Holmes, was often enough a capitulatory gesture.

"What percentage?"

"Never mind what percentage--it was more than large enough to invest our hope in that quarter."

It required a lengthy examination of Holmes' ceiling to find the right tack for coherently venting my profound frustration. "My dear chap, forgive my doubts regarding your valuable reconnaissance, but this is still stark madness. So Smith has in the past cultivated a serum. How is he to be convinced to do so in this case? He was attempting to kill you. He managed to infect me. But he cares nothing for me. The monster is positively devilish in his indifference to human life. What are you going to say to him? 'Pardon the imposition, but your death sentence has fallen upon the wrong victim. I would be obliged if you would cure him.'" I was growing more and more irrationally enraged at Holmes, partly for grasping at what I was convinced was the merest straw, and partly, if I am honest, because we are all of us determined to live at all costs and I had fallen prey to a device never intended to hurt me. "He will never agree to it. Send him a wire informing him he's murdered me, if you like--I am reasonably sure he won't even remember my name."

"You are right," Holmes said, a tiny spark of light illuminating his eyes. He tossed the stub of his cigarette into the fireplace as a sly smile broke the chiseled planes of his features.

"Yes, I am. Blast it all, Holmes, what could you possibly look so pleased about?"

"It is a marvelous idea, my dear Watson." He grasped my hand and had shaken it firmly before I could protest.

"In the name of all that is good in the world, what idea?" I cried out after him as he made for the door.

"It is me he wants, after all," Holmes said cheerily. "That is very helpful."

"It isn't helpful in the smallest degree!" I snapped at his retreating back. "I've merely proven rhetorically I am nothing more than a bloody pawn!"

I regretted my display of temper immediately, but was afforded no opportunity to apologize for it. I would give a great deal to report that he returned to reassure me, or that he acknowledged my outburst at all, but the door had shut behind him almost before I had finished expressing it.

I awoke far less aware, and in a great deal more pain than previous. My joints throbbed, my head ached, I was desperately cold while fully aware I was burning within the bedclothes, and it was difficult to keep my thoughts linear. There had been doctors, I recalled, but they could do nothing. My hands twitched uncontrollably. I had been helping Holmes--or had he been helping me, and what had we been doing? Despite many efforts, I failed to form a single coherent thought before I registered the door opening and my friend's measured step approaching the bedside.

I took one look at his face and gasped in horror. "Holmes, what has happened?"

"Nothing," he said calmly. "I--"

"I've infected you," I whispered in despair. "I never meant to. Forgive me, my dear fellow, but I told you to stay away. Why did you not stay away? I asked you to. I remember that much. I never wanted you near enough for this. You ought to have been further away, much further away."

Somewhere in the back of my mind I registered that I was being far from articulate, but I was assured such was the case when Holmes stared back at me in blank alarm. "Be still, my dear fellow. I am not sick, I promise you."

"But look at you!" I cried, and then subsided into a series of wracking coughs. "You cannot see what you look like, but I can, and I tell you--"

"It is nothing," he said emphatically. "I'm perfectly sound."

"I can see, I can see for myself--"

"I've belladonna in my eyes, a great deal of white powder to pale the complexion, and beeswax where the Vaseline would not suffice," he replied. "Look closely, and you will see that it is so."

"You are trying to keep me from concerning myself about it, but I know you are lying," I groaned. I cannot recall if Holmes' disguise was to blame or my own incoherent state, but I was fully convinced he was as sick as I, and that I would hold myself to blame for the short time remaining.

"Feel this, Doctor," he said, lifting my hand to his face. "I've no increase in temperature. Do you seriously imagine--"

"But I have, and so there is nothing less reliable than my own judgment of--"

"Fine," he said rather less patiently. He turned my hand over and pressed my fingers to the pulse point of his carotid artery. "Shall I count with you, or can you still manage that? I am dying without the slightest aberration of pulse or temperature. It does not seem particularly probable, does it?"

He was right. I did not believe him because he was right, however. I believed him because I trusted him.

"You cannot get sick," I said breathlessly. "You cannot."

"Your kindly meant wish is granted, as it happens, even if I do not deserve it." He allowed my hand to fall back to the bedclothes, but somehow his own remained intertwined with mine, resting there upon the coverlet. It did not feel strange, merely pleasant and absurdly natural.

"Why are you like this?" I asked him. "I mean, why have you made yourself sick? Why...."

"It is a necessary part of our campaign to improve your health," he replied, his grey eyes taking in every fleeting thought which darted across my mind. Or so I imagined, for Holmes knew everything. He had always known everything. Not only did he know everything, but he was still insisting I would live. It seemed at that moment the best comfort I could wish for.

"I don't understand it," I confessed.

"You don't need to," he smiled. "Go back to sleep. I will explain it to you later."

"I may be unforgivably obtuse, but I cannot imagine what it means," I said drowsily. "But Holmes, are you sure you are all right?" I was repeating myself, I knew. I cared but little. It seemed particularly important to me at the time that Holmes not rely on my assistance out of a mistaken belief in my own grasp of the situation, and that he remain free of the malady which I knew by then would take my life if something drastic were not done to prevent it.

"I am well, and you needn't know what I am doing. I promise you," he said softly.

He may have continued speaking, or he may not. I was making every effort to listen attentively. The moment I believed he did not require anything of me, however, I lapsed back into feverish dreams.

A great many things happened then which I do not recall with any clarity. There was a hoarse, screaming voice which carried through the walls. For a brief period I thought it was angry at me, but soon enough it was proven to be angry at Holmes. It shouted all manner of abuse at him, to which he responded with regal indifference. I set this event down as a hallucination. I could still walk, I know, but I could not drink water without assistance, for my hands were more often than not quite useless. Holmes was equally as sick, I thought on occasion, but we would both come right if only they would bleed us into one bowl and then put it back again. There was the beginning of a horrible pain in my torso, which twisted and pressed me until I felt I would never stand straight again even if I did recover. And there was cold, petrifying cold, such as I had experienced once before. I had lain ill with severe fever following the Afghan campaign, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to understand why I felt so terrible if I had not been wounded in action. It was morning, I saw through the window. And then it was night again. It seemed very important to sleep, and all at once it seemed far more essential to remain awake at any cost.

When I came back to myself, Holmes was standing over me with a haggard countenance, administering an injection in my forearm.

"Is that a cure?" I managed.

"It is morphine," he said very quietly. "You were...." He stopped and looked at me intently, his face astonishingly grave. "That is you, isn't it? I haven't seen you for many hours, my boy," he added. "I am almost sorry you are aware of anything."

"Don't worry about me." I don't remember registering the absurdity of the statement.

"Unfortunately, that is one request I do not think I shall be able to meet," he smiled.
"What is the time?"
"It is nearly midnight. Has the morphine taken any effect?"

"I think so. If I am uncomfortable, I certainly don't know it. What are we doing?" I then inquired, recalling there was a campaign of some sort still in the works.

"We are waiting."

"Are we?" I asked. It was terrible to see his face, lined and white with strain as it was. "We've given it up, then?"

"No!" he exclaimed, horrified at the suggestion.

"Why haven't we?"

"You aren't dying," he replied, his eyes as set as if they had been carved out of marble. He sat down next to me. "I won't allow it."

"Holmes," I whispered, "I don't believe you have half as much to do with it as you think."

"Nevertheless, you will do me the courtesy of not directly contradicting me, I am sure."

"If you insist upon it." I drew my knees up so that they curled around his seated form. It was not an action I would have taken under less dire circumstances, but I was rapidly growing too ill to care about secrecy any longer. "You are an extraordinarily stubborn individual," I remarked.

"That is perfectly true. I have always been so." He looked troubled. "You had better not waste your energy talking."

"I want to talk. I may not--that is, it seems a rare opportunity," I corrected myself. "But you are right, I suppose. Perhaps you had better bear the weight of the conversation. Have you given Smith my regards?"

"In a manner of speaking," he assented.

"Need I know anything about it?" I coughed. "Have you hopes of success?"

"No. I have expectations of success. I am going to set this right if it is the last thing I do," he vowed.

"That would indeed be foolish, for then we would still be deprived the pleasure of one another's company," I pointed out.

"Very well, then," he said, smiling at me with unaffected warmth. "It will not be the last thing I do, merely the most important."

I could not listen to Holmes speak this way about me, my inhibitions shattered by morphine as they were, without very great danger. "If there is anyone who can best Smith, it is you."

"He is an exceptional miscreant, Mr. Smith, as are all doctors when they go wrong, but I mean to have the better of him. I have every confidence that he is slowly coming round to my point of view, despite his criminal pedigree. You must promise me you will never turn your energies to the pursuit of infamy, Doctor."

"I will not, if you would prefer it," I agreed with a smile. "Who was the first criminal doctor you encountered in your career?"

"That was not a particularly riveting case," he shrugged.

"But if doctors truly are so apt in wrongdoing, the affair must have held some feature of interest."

"Sadly, it did not. In fact, it held fewer features of interest than the Cartwright embezzlement case, which I need not remind you caused even the most staid of investigators to weep with boredom."

"Come, it must have been unique in order for you to have taken it on at all."

"Yes, I suppose it ought to have," he sighed. "Shall I fetch you anything? Are you hungry at all?"

"No, thank you. I am sorry--I did not realize you would not wish to speak of it," I apologized, in a sudden panic that he would leave me to myself.

"Not at all. The facts are simply unbearably tedious," he said comfortingly.

"I enjoy all accounts of your early work, no matter how tedious."

"You know that I do."
"I cannot imagine you will enjoy this account, no matter that it involves a brother medico. My father was a doctor, you know," he stated in a flat tone.

"Was he?" I asked incredulously. "My dear fellow, you have never spoken of him before. I had thought your ancestors were country squires."

"So they were. We had far more land than money, I am afraid."

"But Holmes, I had asked about--" I stared at him in disbelief. "You cannot mean that--my dear fellow, I am sorry. I am too ill to think, and I fear I have not followed you."

"You followed me exactly." He was no longer looking at me, but gazing, his eyes unfocused and unseeing, into the fireplace. I would once have given anything for my companion to have told me about his upbringing, told me anything at all, but something in the dead chill of his demeanor gave me pause.

"Holmes, you must forgive me," I said all in a rush. "I've really no wish to pry into your private aff--"

"My father poisoned a young girl from the village with a compound of arsenic and tranquilizers. We did not long wonder why he had done so--it was discovered at her autopsy that he had the clearest of reasons."

The world, which was already spinning slightly, made a violent revolution at this ghastly statement.

"My dear Holmes," I murmured. "I never...." I reached for his hand. "Don't speak of it, old man. I am so terribly sorry."

"It isn't important any longer," he replied without inflection. "The wretch is dead, after all. What did your father do?"

"He was a solicitor," I told him, making a Herculean effort to pretend Holmes had not just told me of the most hideous event I could imagine befalling a youth. "And an unspeakable drunk. But he was damnably clever all the same. He practiced in Australia. I've no relations left in England, and my immediate family have all passed away."

"Yes, I remember. The watch," he smiled. He looked more himself by the moment. I wondered who, after the Holmes brothers had gone to the trouble of completely drowning themselves in the anonymity of London, they had told of their parentage apart from myself. "You thought it was a trick."

"Now I know better what you are capable of accomplishing. Which is to say, nearly everything, short of cheating death itself," I said fondly.

"I'll do even that if I have to. I am not averse to a challenge."

"That does not mean you will win," I told him kindly. "I am as mortal as my father and my brother, after all."

"How the devil can you be so stoical about all of this?"

"I gather I was not so stoical before the morphine."

"You were delirious, and in agony," he said gently.

"I have faced death before," I reflected weakly. "I am not so very stoical, but I have learned to manage it. I cannot help but think the undiscovered country would be worth seeing."

"Stop it this instant," he pleaded.  "You are staying in this country."

"Holmes, you must tell me something." The morphine, which my system was entirely unaccustomed to, had drawn a veil between me and the world at large. Only Holmes existed, and to my immense relief there he sat, despite my having forced an abhorrent confidence quite by accident.

"What is it?" he asked, his voice greatly weighted.

"No! It hasn't anything to do with your--with what we just spoke of," I assured him hastily.

"Then we are in agreement, and I positively must tell you something," he conceded. "What am I to tell you?"

"You haven't any patience with the softer emotions," I pointed out. "You've said so. You claim to be complete stranger to love, and everything akin to it. But you are far more sympathetic, and a better caretaker, and far more kind, than many a man of my acquaintance who has conducted four affairs a year quite unfeelingly. Granted, you are very cold in your manner from time to time, but you would do for a complete stranger what few worldly men would do for their own siblings."

"You do me far too much credit--in fact, it is rather in the way of being outrageous credit. But that isn't a question," he pointed out in all seriousness. I had half expected him to draw away, but he remained where he was.

"I know." I re-formulated the query. Doubtless I would never have been so insanely bold had I not been so ill that I could scarcely see, and newly hovering on a narcotic cloud. "What I mean to say is, how can you conduct yourself with such depth of feeling if you have never loved anyone?"

"That is a very logical argument," he acknowledged, his eyes glowing strangely. "What do you infer from it?"

"That you are not as immune to love as you claim." The pain was beginning to return, but I pushed all thought of it aside.

"What are you asking me?" he inquired with some amusement, although his eyes were still deeply somber. "You are perfectly right, of course. I know all about it."

"You do?" I faltered. I struggled to see him properly. "I had hoped you did."

"Watson, look at me. Watson," he repeated urgently. "Why should it matter to you, an ardent admirer of womankind? You cannot be that selfless. Why should it matter at this moment, when any other man would be thinking of himself?"

"I don't like to see you alone."
"I'm not alone. Not when you are here," he whispered.
"I didn't want to leave without telling you."
"Telling me what?" he cried. "Watson? Please answer me."
My eyes fluttered closed again. I clutched at consciousness, but it eluded me like a stream of pipe smoke upon the breeze.

The last time I awoke I was aware I was screaming. I dimly sensed another injection taking place, and the world grew quieter, and a great deal further off. I drifted for a time, until another spasm shook me and my eyes were forced open by the shock of it. Holmes was sitting there once more, or perhaps he had never left. He had one of my hands in both of his, and he hadn't bothered to adjust my sleeve where he had rolled it back. I was barely aware of him, but I knew somehow that he was in a far deeper hell than I was.

"Watson, listen to me," he said desperately. "You can hear me, can you not?" I don't know if I nodded. Perhaps he knew without a sign. "You must do something for me. You must live until tomorrow. Victor Savage was not half the man you are. Doctor, do you hear me? I am begging you," he whispered fiercely. His eyes shone more than usual, though I could not think why. "Tomorrow you are free to do whatever you like, but you will live until then, damn you. You have always done what I asked. I categorically forbid you to die tonight. You will do that for me, won't you? Please say that you will. Say anything at all, my dear fellow."

"I will try," I said in a rasping murmur. "I would do anything for you." Then I drifted back into pain, and cold, and knew nothing more.

I awoke the next evening to the sort of physical exhaustion I had once or twice experienced after horrendously grueling rugby matches, and to a tremendous headache. It was warmer on the right side of the bed than on the left, and I soon determined that this was due to my lying half-cradled on the body of a soundly slumbering consulting detective. Finding this out without moving was a difficult task, and for several seconds, it was too joyous an event to comprehend.

At length I realized that I must move or do myself injury, so I disentangled us as noiselessly as possible and made my way to refresh myself. When I had done so, drank a draught of water greedily, and splashed cold water over my face, I stared into the mirror in disbelief. I was fine. I was, as Holmes had phrased it, perfectly sound. He had performed an outright miracle, and he had done it to save my life. A lump sprang into my throat at this thought, and then another portion of my anatomy entirely hardened when I recalled wisps of the conversation that had taken place...yesterday? The day before? I hurried back to the bedroom.

He was still asleep. More aptly, he was deeply unconscious, for I doubted not that he had drifted off mere hours before, and that he had not slept prior to that for several days. If I were a kinder man, I would have let him be. Instead, I fairly leaped on top of him and he awoke with a gasp.

"You've done it!" I crowed. "You ought to be sainted. How in God's name did you--"

He kissed me so hard that I was dizzy in a matter of seconds. Then he pulled back and stared at me blankly, finally letting out an absurd little laugh. It was not his usual inward merriment, nor his barking exclamation of irony, but something altogether unprecedented.

"You're alive."

"Of course I am alive, you imbecile." He looked as if he had been run over by a carriage, and he was the most heartbreakingly beautiful thing I had ever seen. "You are possessed of dark magic, or unworldly cohorts, or perhaps you are in league with the very devil himself."

"Not far from it," he agreed. "Smith is well in the running for the worst man in London."

"Smith saved me?" I marveled. "That is preposterous! You are having a joke at my expense."

"Watson, when I think of what--" he clutched me to his chest as if I were a lifeline and threw me back upon the bed, the whole long line of his body crushing mine. "My God. It worked. I didn't think it would work."

"Wait, wait a moment!" I protested, breaking free from another ardent kiss with reluctance. "You were completely assured. Never once did you own that I could--"

"Of course I didn't! You would have given it up! I couldn't for a moment let you see I was terri--"

"You fooled me into thinking I would live so thoroughly that I survived?" I shouted up at him, for the joy of the occasion was such that we did not even consider tempering our voices. "Holmes that is ridiculous!"

"No it isn't," he corrected me, gasping with laughter, and fighting me off casually as I attempted to roll him over.

"By Jove! I remember. You wanted me to live until this morning. Or was it last night? You were very set on my living until...?"

"Eight o'clock this morning." He could not stop smiling, and I could not stop mirroring his expressions.

"And you were ill!" I exclaimed, finally forcing my way on top of him so that I sat straddling his torso. "Or you made yourself up to be. In God's name, what for?"

"To lure a gloating Smith to my bedside."

"With what in mind?"

"It was essential I convince him to produce a serum capable of giving you a chance."

"But for Christ's sake, Holmes, what has the one to do with the other?" I demanded.

"Once he was close enough, I employed very persuasive arguments," he responded merrily.

I grasped either side of his head by his shining black hair and whispered, "What did you do?"

"I stabbed him with a sharpened spring."

I regarded him for a very long, exquisitely tense moment. "You didn't."

"I most assuredly did."

"And it took until eight o'clock this morning for the serum he was working on so desperately to develop?"

"You have a very clear grasp of what took place. He sent it by messenger the instant it was ready."

"Holmes! What if the serum had not worked at all?"

"Then we would all three of us be dead, for I began exhibiting symptoms last night."

"Oh, my dear Holmes," I cried out softly. "What of Smith? Is he cured? What if it did not work on him?"

"An interesting question. I have not given it a moment's thought," he smiled coldly.

"What if the serum had not worked on me?"

"Then one way or another, I promise you Smith would be dead." He was making short work of the buttons on my nightshirt, never once taking his burning eyes off mine.

"You would have killed him?" I whispered, throwing his waistcoat to the floor and beginning on his shirtfront. "Holmes, that is mad. What would you have done?"

"If he had died of your ailment, I would have left it at that," he announced as he pulled me down for another kiss. The instant my head tilted downward, he swept my nightshirt off in one sleek movement. "If he hadn't, I would have devised something equally painful. In the rare moments I allowed myself to think of it, his demise involved a fire iron."

He looked up at me kneeling above him, the last of my scant clothing crumpled on the floor, and the set of his mouth was so unforgivingly deadly that my breath caught in my throat. "So you would have murdered my killer."

"I am sorry if I have disappointed you regarding my character, but you--I cannot be expected to live without--" All at once he was kissing me with both his hands pressing the back of my head so that I could scarcely breathe. I had robbed him of everything but his trousers, but I was beginning to realize that it was difficult to get the upper hand where Holmes was concerned, in this matter as in every matter. He turned me so that I was lying on my side quite helplessly as he kissed his way leisurely down my back and spine.

"You never told me," I moaned when his tongue hit my lumbar curve. "Why did you never tell me? Dear God, Holmes--" I abandoned speech when his hand snaked around to cradle my manhood firmly.

"It isn't the sort of thing one brings up over breakfast. 'My dear fellow, I'm aware that it's a criminal matter, but I would like nothing better than to spend four hours a day investigating the intimacies of your anatomy. If you wouldn't mind passing the butter...'"

"How long have you been this way?"

He flipped me onto my back once more after having kicked off the last of his apparel and lowered himself onto my body gracefully. "In love with you? That is hardly a fair question." I dug my nails into his back as he ravaged my neck with his mouth.

"No--are you really?--I mean attracted to men," I gasped.

"In theory, forever. In practice, I was seventeen."
"And in love with me?" I could hardly believe that the incredible world I had awoken to was real, but I had every intention of exploring it for as long as it remained.
"I should give an approximate guess at four years. And I am hardly to blame for not having brought it up," he added, running hand over my upper thigh. "How was I to know you indulged in this vice? You have an experience of women spanning three continents. I read about it in the Strand."

"You shouldn't believe everything you read. I love you more than anything." I drew in a sharp breath as his warm mouth descended over me. Struggling to maintain control of myself, I ran my fingers helplessly through his hair. "Did you don your disguise in here, or in the sitting room?" I moaned.

His eyes flicked up to mine curiously. "Here," he said. "You are interrupting me."

"No, I am not. Where have you left the Vaseline?"
"Now, why on earth would you ask that question?" he purred, abandoning me momentarily to open the drawer of his nightstand. He shook his head in rueful disbelief. "If someone had told me a week ago that you even dreamed of such things.... Now. It has been some time, I fear. Let us see whether I can recall what to do with this. It belongs in this area, does it not?"
"That's the general idea," I gasped. He lay on top of me and traced my brow line with his thumb while he worked into me with his other hand.
"Look at me."
I did so, and he kissed me languidly. He did this for several minutes, until my very bones ached with desire for him.
"Not yet. We've done with secrets from now on, are we agreed? There must be nothing between us. To be perfectly frank, I cannot recall having ever felt this way about anyone. I adore you. When I give you longing glances, I shall do so openly, when I can, and not via silver-plated coffeepot."
"Certainly. Holmes--"
"I said not yet." He kissed me again, and I feared my weakened, trembling body would burst into flames if he kept going as he was. "Perhaps you weren't listening. You are mine now, and I am quite dictatorial with my possessions. I fear you are going to have to become accustomed to me doing as I wish with you. Daily, when my schedule allows it. Twice on Sundays."
"I would like nothing better," I moaned.
"That is excellent news," he smiled.
"Holmes, please, for the love of heaven--"
"Patience is a virtue that provides its own rewards."
"You just want to hear me begging you," I whispered hoarsely.
"That is a secondary advantage," he allowed, but he shifted his weight and when I felt the tip of him I knew he would at last do as I asked. It is difficult to describe what remains. He made love to me with painstaking slowness, his head buried in the crook of my neck, and when at last we had spent ourselves in great, shuddering gasps, I lay there in silence, amazed at the wonders to be found in the world.

"He isn't dead, if it matters to you," Holmes remarked the following morning, curled in his chair with a heap of newspapers at his feet.
"Who isn't? Culverton Smith?" I replied, looking up from the medical journal I had been attempting to finish. Our plates had not yet been cleared from breakfast, and the pleasant clutter of our untidy sitting room was familiar enough, yet somehow, everything had changed.  In my opinion, it had changed inexplicably and marvelously for the better.
"I've had a wire inquiring after your recovery. No doubt he wished to know whether he ought to fear further reciprocity. I infer from his ability to communicate via telegram that he is alive and well."
"Thank heaven--that is wonderful news."
"Why should you wish him well?" Holmes inquired rather testily, reaching for his pipe and tobacco. "The devil take him, as far as I am concerned. He very nearly killed us both."
"Do you know what I would be doing at this moment if he hadn't infected me?" I asked calmly. "I would be watching your every movement in absolute secrecy, and soon would be sifting through that pile of newspapers beneath you so that I could have an excuse to brush your leg. It was not a bad life, I assure you, and quite tantalizing in many of its aspects, but I vastly prefer my new one. I would not be nearly so deliriously happy just now if it were not for Smith and his little wooden box. So I say thank God for him."
"Do you?" Holmes smiled back at me. The sun was streaming through the window so that his face was in shadow, but I did not need light to know the way he looked. "Then I say thank God too."